APW Book Club: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed Round III

by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

APW Book Club: Elizabeth Gilberts Committed Round III | A Practical Wedding

Ok! I hope you got a good night’s sleep and are all fresh faced and ready to face the day, because it’s time for the official, no holds barred discussion of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed. Except there is a catch, because it’s totally holds barred (is that the proper opposite?) The hold is, you can discuss anything you want about the book, but I would like you all to be as respectful of Liz Gilbert as a person and a writer as you would be if she was reading this thread. Because this is the internet (and APW is super highly google-able) and she might be. So please treat her with as much or more respect as you’d treat me. Don’t like the book? Great, tell us why. Loved the book? Great, dish. But make sure you don’t equate Committed with Elizabeth Gilbert, yes? None of us are what we write, exactly. It’s not that simple.

So where were we? We’ve discussed why I picked the book (because if women like it, it must be stupid, right? F*ck that noise.) We saw pictures of the lovely book club meetups, and then we discussed why I did like the book (because wanting more doesn’t make you less of a woman, or a wife, or a mother). And now, may I suggest the APW book club Committed questions as talking points?

  • Gilbert talks about how pragmatic marriages caused alliances and saved kingdoms and ran farms. Now marriage is mostly touted as a very individual, or as ‘for the kids.’ Do you think there is something that marriages, generally or individually, can offer to the larger community? Economically? Socially? Emotionally? For our neighborhood, our nation, our friend group, our families, or another group? Discuss.
  • Has the evolution of men’s and women’s roles in our social network negatively or positively affected our marriages in the Western world? (see page 31)
  • Gilbert asks on page 185 “how might we work together as a society to construct a world where healthy children can be raised with out women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it?” Discuss.
  • Early in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert says that “every intimacy carries the ever-coiled makings of complete catastrophe.” Do you think that’s true of your relationship? Does it make you feel doomed, or hopeful?
  • On page 35 Liz states “… the person whom you choose to marry is perhaps the single most vivid representation of your own personality. Your spouse becomes the most gleaming possible mirror through which your emotional individualism is reflected back to the world.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
  • How has/have your own parents’ marriage(s) influenced your view of marriage? Have you learned anything surprising about their marriage as an adult?
  • How did Gilbert’s list of demographics’ effect on marriage make you feel about the prospects of your own marriage?

And go. Debate club, APW style (with some holds barred).

Photo by Moodeous Photography in Denver (yay!)

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

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  • A-L

    To have such a topic, and need to be on my way to work. GRR! And I haven’t read the book (yet). But these questions are so interesting that I’ll just make a quick comment or two anyway.

    1) I actually think that the evolution of men and women’s roles has positively affected marriages, at least for women. And I think if the wife is happy, then so will the husband. BUT…this only holds true if there are no children. Once the couple has any children, I think a lot of the new roles really screw women over. Because they get to be Supermom. She needs to look gorgeous, take care of the kids, excel at her job (while some look down on her for having one at all), and have the house be ready for a House Beautiful photoshoot at the drop of a hat. And if all of those aren’t happening, then it’s the women’s fault, not the family’s (husband and wife). And if the wife happens to be a stay-at-home wife, then some consider her a slacker or golddigger. It’s really hard to win once you have kids.

    2) I don’t think my husband is the most vivid picture/insight into my personality. He’s the one I meshed with best (interests & values) who treated me the best. Someone can be head over heels with someone, but if that someone doesn’t reciprocate, then it’s pointless, even if they’re theoretically a “better” match on paper. But he’s the one who I thought would help make the next 70 years of my life happy, and he’s the one I choose as my partner. So it reflects some of my feelings and values, but not entirely.

    And now I really need to go before I’m super late to work!

    • Arachna

      Yes, I didn’t find that my husband is the best reflection either. And I think before I met him I did think that that’s how it was going to work – that I would pick someone that I thought was “awesomest” which would be a reflection of my views and tastes. But it turned out to be far more about how he treats me and feels about me and how I feel about him then about how “awesome” he is – though he is pretty awesome and of course certain basics had to be in place – he is a good person etc.

      • http://livinglnf.blogspot.com Jo

        I like how you both took issue with the idea that your spousal choice reflects some but not all of your values. I agree. But I also think that part of what this is about is that your spousal choice is sometimes the only way people can know about some of those deep, important sides of you. I know for me that choosing my not always charismatic but always wise and truly caring husband tells something about my values that nothing else in my life does – that it’s the substance of who you are that matters to me, not necessarily what you offer to strangers at first meeting. Or rather, the fact that what he offers to strangers at first meeting is intensely real, and never a front, which I find incredibly refreshing. And yet, that’s not as much a part of my personality as I might like, but the fact that I chose him means that it is a key value to me. Which is a window into myself.

  • http://www.ukuleleinrouen.blogspot.com Kinzie Kangaroo

    I have another point to bring up. I was surprised to find that, a full month after finishing reading the book, the part that stuck with me was toward the beginning, the part focusing on the history of marriage. As I was reading that part, my eyes would drift off the page, I would easily get distracted, and I kind of had to force myself to keep reading. But then, oh then, a recent (facebook) discussion exploded on my fiance’s cousin’s wall. He posted a link that was very anti-queer, and my fiance and I engaged him, his brother, and their father in a huge debate, our basic point being that gay people are humans too. (I know, I know… We’re still riled up about it.) And what I kept coming back to, in this discussion that was heavily tipped towards the argument of legalizing gay marriage, is the thing that Liz Gilbert mentioned, that the “historical tradition of marriage” as we know it today has only been around for a very few years. That marriage has changed so much in the last hundreds of years and to claim that GLBTQ people shouldn’t get married in the interest of preserving traditional marriage is bullsh*t. True, deep, utter bullsh*t.

    So, while I read the book and I liked parts more than others, but overall felt rather passive towards it, I was surprised to find myself coming away with huge sections sticking with me. I think that’s the sign of a good book. Nice work, Gilbert.

    • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

      The history section has had a really big impact on me too. I’ve paid a lot more attention to folks when they talk about traditional marriage, thinking, well that’s not really what happened historically. When we talk about marriage in church, I am reminded again and again how the religious rules surrounding marriage were initiated to control the institution because they couldn’t stop people from marrying, not because god issued them. When I hear talk of the legal aspects of marriage, again, it’s all about controlling the bit of marriage that the government can control, because they are powerless in so many other respects.

      It’s really eye-opening when you know the background and then hear how people have changed the historical story to meet their needs.

    • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

      The part I took away from the historical bit (other than interesting bits) was seeing the advantages that historical approaches to marriage provided to some of the relationships–not forcing that person to be your everything, having clearly defined roles so no one did everything like was mentioned above, and the community support–and figuring how to integrate those into my relationship which doesn’t have gender-defined duties, which does allow us to make and define our choices.

      It’s causing a lot of thought and discussion.

    • Rasheeda

      I would have to agree with that comment as well. The history of marriage part really resonated with me, I was discussing the book with my mother (who has not read it) and that was the thing I kept coming back to time and time again.

      • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

        I was actually with my mom when I was finishing up the book and it started a few interesting conversations. Especially on the historical religious part, but I guess that’s a topic for another day.

    • http://sochicsocheap.blogspot.com liz

      i think i was pretty well-versed in the history of marriage prior to reading this section, so i wasn’t so profoundly impacted by it. at first, in fact, it annoyed me. because i felt like gilbert’s point was that our new-fangled ideas about marriage are all wrong, and i wanted to yell, “BUT LOOK AT HOW PEOPLE LIVED.”

      marriage is one of those things where you can dwell on what it has been used for historically, OR you can celebrate and protect what you think it should be. and i choose to do the latter, and walked away hoping gilbert was doing the same. (i never finished the book. whoops. don’t tell meg.)

  • http://roughit.wordpress.com roughit

    “… the person whom you choose to marry is perhaps the single most vivid representation of your own personality. Your spouse becomes the most gleaming possible mirror through which your emotional individualism is reflected back to the world.”

    THIS and her discussion of it was one thing that struck and stuck with me hugely. I realized that this is why certain things my SO does are irritating, even though they just don’t matter (ie using the wrong grammar in certain situations, saying something that is just not right information about cats… yes, I am a grammar snob and I work at a cat hospital). I realized after reading this that she doesn’t HAVE to be a reflection of who I am, and I don’t need to put that much weight on how she does things. People aren’t saying, “Oh, well, Turtle doesn’t know anything about cats, so obviously Bird does’t either.” Reading this helped me figure out why I was so senstive about stupid little things, and articulating that helped me let go of it.

    • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

      I’m right there with you. I get overly judgmental and worried and annoyed about stuff that is entirely separate from me. But we’ve been dating for ten years, so I’ve started to let a lot of it go. My darling, wonderful, amazing husband cannot dance. He dances to the UP beat (the rest of the world dances to the downbeat, in case you were wondering). I love to dance, and for our wedding, we had a giant dance party. And I loved watching him dance. Now, instead of being annoyed or embarrassed– it makes me laugh. And it makes me love him even more.

      I think the hard part of that phrase from Gilbert isn’t so much that it isn’t true– it’s that it might be true. That the choice we have made in this person that fits us so well, that it reflects who we are. And I think it really does, even if it’s not in the ways we fear or even the ways we hope. I know that my husband reflects who I am and who I love, and who I choose, and that reflects all of me. He doesn’t need to be this paragon, this perfect person– because I’m not. My husband and I like to say that we aren’t perfect, but we’re perfect for one another. We are complementary, even if it’s still a little rough around the edges. And I’m okay with that. I need to let go of the mirror that I’m afraid we’re projecting, and to embrace the mirror that is really there, of who we are. That real mirror is an important part of marriage, because we show each other our true selves. Embracing flaws leads us to improvement and to striving to be the best person we can become. We’ve been working together for ten years on improving ourselves, and as long as we can support and love one another, we’ll do it for another ten, twenty, thirty years.

    • Sarabeth

      So true. And I am really not proud of some of the early moments in our relationship, in which I spent too much time worried that my friends wouldn’t like my husband for all the ways he’s not like me, or them. Despite being deeply in love with him, I was almost embarrassed of some of these differences. When I should have trusted that 1) they can tell the difference between him and me, and 2) they aren’t assholes.

  • http://roughit.wordpress.com roughit

    Also! I forgot to respond to this:

    ■Early in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert says that “every intimacy carries the ever-coiled makings of complete catastrophe.” Do you think that’s true of your relationship? Does it make you feel doomed, or hopeful?

    I think that this is true of our relationship; part of our relationship is learning how to intertwine our lives while maintaining a sense of self. The key is that we ARE trying to intertwine our lives: now that we’re married, we’re a team, and for us that means merged finances, blended responsibilities, always having each other’s back. I couldn’t support my life as it is without her. An enormous part of our relationship is relying on each other, and if it fell apart it WOULD be catastrophic. But I think this is part of the reason and inspiration to keep working so hard at our marriage.

  • http://www.jehara.blogspot.com jehara

    One of the parts that really struck me and stayed with me was the essay Gilbert quoted from about marriage being a subversive act. I don’t have my book nearby to go into more detail and I have to leave for work as well. Argh. So this is really short and sweet. Will revisit later.

  • http://shellynn.wordpress.com Michelle

    Our book club spent a bit of time discussing Gilbert’s use of one marriage in another culture to make assumptions about marriage in the entire culture. That didn’t seem accurate or a necessary part of the book. I know along the way she says, “I’m not trained in this, I know I can’t make these assumptions.” But that part of the book seemed presumptious.

    I wouldn’t want someone from Africa or Asia to come to dinner at my house and from that glean that in America, husbands cook and wives clean up after dinner and wives are more submissive in conversation but work more outside the home. We’re striving to make our lives and our marriages uniquely ours, so lumping another culture’s views of marriage all together made the book start off on a false note for me.

    • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

      Oh whew, glad I’m not the only person that bothered. That was actually the biggest issue I had with the book (for the most part, I liked everything else). I was deeply, deeply uncomfortable with how Gilbert presented those conversations as representative. I know that she’s a writer, not an anthropologist (a point she makes as well), but I think I would’ve felt a lot better about the whole thing if she’d said something along the lines of, “And then I read this study on this particular culture’s marriage traditions” or “And then I went and consulted with anthropologists who study this culture.” Especially since different cultures have different ways of presenting their customs to outsiders and especially since so much can get lost in the process of interpretation.

  • http://misallocationofresources.blogspot.com/ Jenn

    While I did not love the book, as I really just didn’t connect with a ton of the points she made about her personal feelings about marriage, I feel like part of that is actually a point in favour of the book: Gilbert presents a ton of different ways she could have reconciled herself to marriage, until she finds one way that worked for her.

    I think part of the beauty of presenting so many possible solutions is that many of us (readers) might have found her earlier points to be just as illuminating as the final point was for her. For me, reading the book and carefully considering what I felt about my future marriage, it was interesting to bring up her points as discussion with hubs-elect (thank you to the individual who posted this in the comments a while ago, it is now my nickname of choice for him.) to figure out what we felt worked for us.

  • http://meaghantothemax.wordpress.com Meaghan

    “Gilbert asks on page 185 “how might we work together as a society to construct a world where healthy children can be raised with out women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it?” Discuss.”

    For me, the most impactful part of the book (and to me, the best part of APW!) was discussing the role of wife, and how it’s so often inextricably linked to the role of mother. The pressure on women (why only us?!?!) is so enormous for perfect marriages, children, and all the accoutrements – house, career (or not), beauty – that even though I WANT to get married and have children, it gives me pause sometimes… I’m not scared that I won’t be able to handle the responsibilities, but I am afraid sometimes of falling into that martyr role we’ve discussed before. I don’t want to scrape my soul, and it makes me furious that wanting to keep my autonomy will mean that (certain) people will find me lacking.

    It’s maybe only a symptom, not a cause, of this issue, but it makes me want to throw a temper tantrum when men are congratulated for, say, watching their own child for an hour.

    “How has/have your own parents’ marriage(s) influenced your view of marriage? Have you learned anything surprising about their marriage as an adult?”

    I was raised by a single mother who got married three years ago. It’s impacted me hugely – until I was in my early 20s, I had a very Amazonian view towards long-term relationships and child-rearing — that men were lovely, but largely uneccessary. This was shaped of course by the fact that my mom did everything that needed to be done without too many problems, but also because all of the marriages and dads I saw around me were very patriarchal.

    Meeting my partner and seeing that his parents viewed their marriage as a partnership changed how I saw the marital dynamic – that it didn’t have to be any one way, that it could be a study in equality.

    When my mom got married, I was so surprised and saddened to see that she threw herself into the role of second-shift-working wife like she was trying to make up for lost time. Now she sighs heavily about how she has to clean the house (because if she lets her husband do it, it just won’t be done right!) every time we talk, and it makes me so sad. My stepdad is otherwise a decent guy, but it makes me angry that he lets her do this – if the man runs a successful business, he can sure as hell scrub a toilet.

    All of this has made me fierce about maintaining equality in our relationship (sometimes I think poor Eric does way more than 50%, like I’m trying to make him compensate for all those generations of men who did jack-all). A part of me will always know that I don’t need to stay in a relationship if it’s not working (even if I have kids – I know first hand that they turn out alright with one parent), but that part is small. Most of me wants to fight for a relationship that’s equal, and that we can be proud of, and that involves me not doing dishes for the rest of my life.

    • http://cijicrighton.com c.c.c

      re: Has the evolution of men’s and women’s roles in our social network negatively or positively affected our marriages in the Western world?

      I don’t agree with the popularity of “just women are affected” position.
      Yes, women’s roles are constantly in flux between housewives and careers and have-it-alls and balance. The problem isn’t so much which role you choose as it is how those around you respond. Criticism in any area is difficult, and equally hard to stop, but provided you and your partner are satisfied with your personal arrangements, it’s not a deal breaker.

      But to say that just women are affected, we’ve gone on to criticize men and their struggles with the roles they’re navigating. As much are we struggle with over the top expectations, they’re stuck with “bringing home the bacon” or not (if their SO has a bigger income), feeling out of sorts with housework or childcare because they haven’t had the role models to encourage it versus the man who takes paternal leave because he doesn’t want to miss these precious first weeks and his wife could sure use a hand.

      Social roles and expectations are equally difficult for men and women because they’re the same coin.

      it makes me want to throw a temper tantrum when men are congratulated for, say, watching their own child for an hour. ” – seems more like a growing pain than a symptom or a problem. I thank my husband every time he does the dishes to show that I recognize his work and appreciate it. So recently he did a load and hugged me and said he “did it for me so I’d be less stressed” I was shocked. I responded “for me? You did dishes for me…? Because it’s my job, so that makes it a favour? Sweetheart, you eat off those dishes too, so at best you did them for us.” Growing pains.

      • http://meaghantothemax.wordpress.com Meaghan

        You’re right; I should have been more clear. I was focusing on the fact that there’s all this pressure on women, because Gilbert focused a lot of the book on the impact that marriage has had on women’s roles and lives, but it’s true that men face just as many expectations and stereotypes – making more money, being distant and unemotional, and from the depiction of men in most popular media, being pretty effing stupid.

      • http://misallocationofresources.blogspot.com/ Jenn

        I wish I could exactly this x100 – “Sweetheart, you eat off those dishes too, so at best you did them for us.” Yes yes yes :)

      • http://sochicsocheap.blogspot.com liz

        re: your last paragraph about dishes. i totally get what you’re saying here.

        but every time josh does something for US, i think of it as something for ME. and it’s a two-way street… every time i do something for US, i think of it as something for HIM. it actually makes it… easier to do, i think. because even though i’m the one who really, really needs a clean house to feel comfortable, if i spend the afternoon cleaning the place, i’m thinking,”he’s going to be so glad he doesn’t have to do this when he gets in.” and it makes it less of a chore, more of a surprise.

        similarly, when i come home and the dishes are done, i know he did them for me. they’re our dishes- and since he’s home more, they’re mostly his, really. and it’s been predetermined that that’s his “job.” but i know that as he’s doing them, he’s thinking, “now liz won’t need to!” and i find it both sweet and encouraging and it makes me even more appreciative than i would have been.

        not saying you’re wrong. they’re his effing dishes. just found it interesting that we could both have such different perspectives of the same issue.

        • http://www.cijicrighton.com c.c.c

          I think despite everything, we’re saying the same thing. When I clean, I know its for us because we benefit from it, but I still go to him, and say “weeee! clean! kisses! now!”

      • MegsDad

        Don’t you get it? It’s your job, and he did it. It’s gift, to you. Chores are chores. If you were to, say, take the car in for an oil change, and he was responsible for things automotive, it would be a gift. And he should thank you and be grateful, even though you ride in that car, and occasionally even drive it.

        Once chores are worked out, they are *chores*. Of course they benefit both of you; that is what it means to be team. But chores are chores, and often not enjoyable. Accept the gift. Who knows? Maybe some time he will wash the dishes again. It beats you having to wash them. Don’t diss him for doing a kindness.

        • http://www.cijicrighton.com c.c.c

          One problem I have with this comment is that you are assuming that dishes are “my job” the way that changing the oil is “his job” and that combo is our default every day. Not every couple have such defined roles (which, funny enough, was the actual purpose of my post) and as such, we are addressing the way our situations can adapt those roles.

          I shared that story as a comparison it to the “congratulating a man for taking care of his own kid for an hour” to say this: It is a good thing to show appreciation for an act, be it washing dishes, or taking care of your child. We do it because we are thankful, because it is good to recognize another’s contribution, and to encourage such behavior in the future. Where I make a distinction with the word “favour” (or in the above situation – “congratulations”) is that these words assume that full responsibility is someone elses’, and that is not always fair. It’s his child too, they’re his dishes too, she drives the car too.
          We can do work that is appreciated without finishing the sentence with “but its your job”.

        • Arachna

          I think the point is that in her household, like in mine, doing the dishes is not “her job”. It is “their job” that both of them are supposed to do. So how is it a gift?

    • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

      I, too was raised by a single mom. I felt that men were useless and have worked hard to change this opinion. I am also fierce about equality and not dividing by gender lines (thank goodness C is so patient and mellow). It’s tough because I am naturally super maternal, and I am terrified of falling into martyr-mom patterns.

      For me one key thing is separating my anger with the world for how stupid all of this is from the fact that we don’t yet have any set patterns, and now it’s important to me to be super calm, intentional, and communicate about our patterns. Now and over time.

      • K

        “one key thing is separating my anger with the world for how stupid all of this is from the fact that we don’t yet have any set patterns”
        I notice sometimes my husband thinks that I’m blaming HIM when I’m really feeling frustrated about what I interpret to be cultural standards. I need to practice patience and good communication too :)

  • http://nickandnoragettingmarried.wordpress.com/ Annie

    I haven’t read Committed yet, but I was a somewhat surprised fan of Eat, Pray, Love, so I’m curious to hear more about Gilbert’s take on relationships. Without that book as a background, I would like to respond a little to question 1 (about marriage and communities). I like to think that marriages/any large relationship commitment do add a great deal to the community. It makes you think outside your own needs and consider what someone else (your partner, your family, your partner’s family/friends, etc.) might need. It sounds silly, but announcing our engagement on Facebook was really fun. Then I realized that gay couples don’t get that kind of experience (in most states). Why should they be deprived of all the joys, whether serious or silly, of getting married? Even though I’ve always been pro-gay marriage, being engaged has made me even more fervent about my stance. Although it’s obviously not the right choice for everyone, and there’s something to be said for making sure you’re okay as an individual, I think marriage can widen up your sphere of awareness.

    • Lydia

      Eh, the government can keep gay people from getting legally married, but ‘engaged’ isn’t a legal status. Also, Facebook doesn’t care about legal status. My partner and I were totally facebook engaged, and we’re married on there now, even though the state we live in has an everything but the word style domestic partnership thing that explicitly keeps us from being legally married.
      I mean, not to poo-poo your enthusiasm for gay marriage, that’s great. It’s just that a facebook engagement is one of the few things gay couples can have, wherever they live, if they want it.

  • Abby C.

    ■Early in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert says that “every intimacy carries the ever-coiled makings of complete catastrophe.” Do you think that’s true of your relationship? Does it make you feel doomed, or hopeful?

    You know, I had a spontaneous discussion about this very thing with my FH last night. My general feeling is that to truly acheive great happiness, you must risk great sadness. I don’t feel like great sadness is lurking around every corner in my relationship, though. One thing I really appreciate about my FH is how from the very beginning I have never doubted what he felt for me. It feels like being wrapped in a warm, safe blanket of love.

    • http://roughit.wordpress.com roughit

      “My general feeling is that to truly acheive great happiness, you must risk great sadness. I don’t feel like great sadness is lurking around every corner in my relationship, though. ”

      The Exactly button doesn’t express how much I want to exactly this, and I can’t say it better.

      • peanut

        As a anxiety-prone Type A individual, my nightmares now consist of something happening to my husband and resulting in me having to live my life without him. It’s like I am risking extreme sadness by tying my life and future to the person I am in love with, the risk of that being if he goes my world will be turned upside down – but it is so worth it.

    • http://lilapuppy.blogspot.com Meghan

      My recent miscarriage at 12 weeks was the biggest catastrophe that we have faced as a couple and the description of “being wrapped in a blanket of love” brought tears to the surface, because that is the most accurate description of how I felt with my husband. Thank you for writing that.

      And this, this makes me feel very hopeful.

      • Morgan

        Oh, honey, I’m so so sorry to hear that.

      • http://sochicsocheap.blogspot.com liz

        meghan, i thought of you last week when i was in the hospital fearing i was in preterm labor.

        i had worried friends and relatives call, and so many of them said, “we were so scared! until we heard that josh was there. then we knew you’d be fine.”

        and i remember sort of feeling that way for you. being overwhelmed with sadness for you, but then reading that eric was there with junk food and comfort and knowing you’d be okay.

    • http://madeline.eisenhart@gmail.com Maddie

      I really appreciate this comment. I feel like I’m in a constant battle between the comfort of the “blanket of love” and the nagging “feelings of impending doom”, but I don’t think that’s necessarily an inherent quality of my relationship. It’s not that I’ve ever doubted my husband’s love for me, it’s that my extremely unstable childhood has led me to not trust the universe. The fact that my husband has been the only source of stability in my life terrifies me and it’s a daily struggle for me to not expect the other shoe to drop.

      But I think this is also what makes marriage so powerful. There are SO many risks involved. Risks that could just chew up your soul and spit it out again. But it’s also been such a great source of personal growth for me to put faith in the world again. My relationship with my husband has taught me how to be carefree, how to trust people unconditionally, and how to stop creating hypothetical situations in my head that spell misery (most of the time). I think being aware of the risk of catastrophe is good, but we also need to be careful how we make decisions based on that knowledge.

      • http://sochicsocheap.blogspot.com liz


        to strip marriage of its vulnerability is to strip it of its power.

        • http://lilapuppy.blogspot.com Meghan

          yep. exactly.

  • kireina

    “Have you learned anything surprising about [your parents'] marriage as an adult?”

    I had never really thought about asking my parents about marriage before I read the book. Weird, right? But they’ve had such an amazing marriage that it’s been nothing but a positive experience for me watching them as I grew up that I felt that they had taught me by example. I figured, though, I should push those assumptions a bit. So I asked at Thanksgiving what the happiest time of their marriage was, and they both immediately responded that it was the time from when my mom got pregnant with me through the first 6 months after my sister was born. Which was a bit of a surprise, given the responses of Gilbert’s mother and grandmother.

    I had known from earlier comments that they had trouble getting pregnant the first time, something they both really wanted for their marriage. What I hadn’t known was how much of a strain that put on their relationship when the doctors told them it probably wasn’t going to happen. How hard it was for them to keep going and then to give up on trying. How amazing it was when, six months later, my mom spontaneously became pregnant for no good medical reason, and then they were blessed with my sister two and a half years later. My dad said that the horribleness of the two years of trying to get pregnant and watching their relationship waver and almost crumble kind of grounded both of them against future difficulties. That they could get through whatever came up next because, for them, they’d already withstood the most brutal blow that could fall on their connection to each other early in the marriage. And I thought that was kind of amazing, and worth sharing. Maybe having kids doesn’t make marriage harder, maybe it can be the foundation for facing other problems together.

    • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

      I’ve asked my parents about the story of how they got together many times — for years I was trying to figure out how such different people could ever get into a serious relationship and marry. But I’ve never asked them about their marriage. It’s such a painful topic in our family because while they are still married, they’ve hated each other for most of my life.

      So it’s not just you that hasn’t asked (until Thanksgiving for you). And while we both have different family situations, I think the results of our questions could be illuminating and help shape our marriages. It’s not surprise that the models our parents make for us shape our ideas and ingrained behaviors about marriage, but hearing their thoughts on it as separate from their behavior might be very helpful.

    • Rasheeda

      I read the book and encouraged both my sister and mother to read the book but never thought to ask about my mothers marriage- I mean from her POV- I have always shared with her my feelings about how her relationship was seen through my eyes but never her eyes. My father and mother are still legally married and spend vacations and loads of time together but dont technically live under the same roof. She has said she doesn’t want a divorce but she is just tired (after over 30 years of marriage and 35+ as a couple) and needs space to be herself. I can’t help but think that what my mother is trying to say is she is tired of the day to day negotiations of being 1 half of a couple and that now at her age (55) she wants to be free, but still together. It’s tricky business, especially since my Dad wants his”old” life back. But this is something I need to go talk to her about…ASAP. Texting a Mother-Daughter lunch date now!

      • TNM

        This is an interesting situation. I would certainly like to hear any insights your mother wants to share!

    • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

      My parents waited twelve years to have children, and then struggled for another three years before they got pregnant with my older brother. They’ve been married 42 years as of this June. I wonder– maybe the pain and fear and struggle that people go through trying to have children maybe brings people together and builds a stronger foundation for their marriage. Maybe it’s the challenges that make us stronger.

    • http://sochicsocheap.blogspot.com liz

      i’ve hinted at this a few times on apw and my own blog, but since getting married and having “married lady” talks with my mom- i’ve been SHOCKED by how forward-thinking my parents are as a couple. they fit the stereotypical roles, laugh and joke about my soapboxes, etc. so i had assumed they were your usual couple- not very out-of-the-box.

      come to find out, we agree on so much about marriage that i had assumed we’d disgreed on. which was a kick in the pants. because if anyone was to look in from the outside of my marriage, they may think they see two kids who fit the mold (she took his name?! etc) and it always made me angry- because we’re far from it. and here i am, doing the same to my own parents.

      it also made me think that the successful marriages have a lot more than we realize going on behind the scenes.

      • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

        About five years ago, my boyfriend (now husband) had a minor indiscretion; the rumor about him spread like wildfire through our group of friends, and soon everyone was talking. He and I worked out what had happened, and we moved on– as a couple. I lost one of my close friends because she continued to talk behind my back, and because she didn’t agree with the choice I made.

        A couple years later, another group of friends was judging a girl harshly because of choices she made in her relationship, and because people assumed her boyfriend was treating her poorly. What I told her continues to be very important to me: no-one– and I mean NO-ONE– knows what goes on inside a relationship. I expressed my concerns to her, told her I thought she could do better (she could, and did), but told her that I would stand by whatever choice she made.

        As much as we may know what goes on with a couple, or think we understand– no one does. There are two people who know the true strength (or true weakness) of a marriage, and they are the two people in that marriage. They can let people in (friends, family, therapists, etc) to try and help, but they, in the end, know what’s best and what’s right for them.

        • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

          I want to “exactly” this about five zillion more times. Communication among friends and in society is so key. I know people who seem to have the “perfect” everything to everyone around them, but they hate each other. I know people in open relationships that most think is an excuse for cheating who are so devoted and strong together. You can never, ever know.

          It’s inspired me to look deeper, ask more questions, reserve judgment, and talk about my own choices. (Scarier done than typed).

          • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

            Reserving judgment can be HARD. Really hard. Even with my experiences reading APW and the things I’ve learned, it’s hard to break horrible habits. I fall so easily into so many WIC habits, and when I see myself doing something I’d otherwise criticize, I have to pull back and remind myself to STOP. It’s tough. But taking a breath and trusting ourselves and our loved ones, especially in something so big as a marriage or relationship?? That’s really hard.

          • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

            Yeah, that’s why I said it. I’m essentially Judging McJudgerpants about relationships, so I train myself a lot. There’s a balance between trust and abandonment and I am not sure where to find it. I err on the side of hover most of the time.

  • http://www.empapers.com Eleanor

    I have to go grocery shopping, and haven’t had time to read through the other comments – but one thing that I remembered in the book, and see happening in western society is the displacement of men. The Laotian village where the girls were outlearning the boys and they had no place. This is happening in the U.S. now with female college grads, etc.

    Hanna Rosin wrote a piece ‘The End of Men’:

    Obviously I’m not suggesting we go back in time, dumb ourselves down, but it does beg the question: Why marry? What are gender roles? What is a healthy role for men in our changing society? How does this affect our modern marriages?

  • Katelyn

    “Has the evolution of men’s and women’s roles in our social network negatively or positively affected our marriages in the Western world? (see page 31)”

    It depends. As someone currently struggling with old vs. new gender roles in our relationship, the evolution can be difficult and create its own problems. In a perfect world, where the balance of work/home is equally on the shoulders of men and women (or, at the very least, the balance for both is a reasonable expectation), I think it improves marriages. But working on this paradigm shift complicates things and just makes one more thing to fight about.

    Which is why I think we get this Super-Mom complex others have touched on. If men sacrifice any part of their career to help with maintaining the home, they’re considered saints. But it’s a double-edged sword for women these days. And it’s going to stay that way until men staying at home isn’t considered some kind of heroic deed. Because that’s when the pressure is lifted off of the woman to the overall couple.

    It also depends on whether one thinks divorce is the epitome of failure in a marriage. Personally, I don’t. But I know so many people who think that divorce is somehow the root of all evil. And I can see how, in the eyes of a person who grew up amidst divorce, that all the fights and bad blood between the parents can be a source of angst and relationship woes for themselves. But maybe that’s because of this cultural assumption that divorce translates to failure, not the divorce itself.

    Maybe if we gave couples a break and no longer condemned their breaking up, divorce wouldn’t be such a miserable experience. I concede that it would still be miserable – but maybe without the added guilt of feeling like a failure, the admittance of mistakes and trying to move on would be an easier process.

    • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

      I feel that it takes much more strength to admit that maybe you aren’t meant to be together, maybe both of you would be happier elsewhere, especially in this cultural clime. When experienced in the life of those close to me, divorce has more often been a mitzvah than an offense.

      • Emily Elizabeth

        Yes! When my grandmother divorced her husband (step-grandfather) at 83, we had a big celebration! Literally, a divorce party, where we celebrated the fact that he was no longer able to make her life miserable and mistreat her. I’d always seen divorce as a bad thing before then, but that was a very, very good divorce.

    • Carla

      One of the most insightful things I’ve ever heard wrt relationships: In our current cultural narrative, the relationship continues until either it “fails” (divorce) or one of the partners dies. I’m trying to remember where I read/heard it; I think it might’ve been at a talk by Janet Hardy. Or some polyamory books or discussions. Anyway.

      How can we have given ourselves absolutely no room for a positive outcome at the end of the day? A “this relationship was good in these ways, and now I’m going to go do other things” type of ending?

      • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

        Dan Savage has a whole chapter dedicated to talking about the “marriage is only successful if it lasts until one partner dies” in “The Commitment,” but I’m sure it’s an idea that other people have (thankfully) floated out too.

        • Carla

          Ah yes, of course that’s what it was from. I just applied it to the polyamory discussions I was having when I read it.

  • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

    One major thing that I’ve taken away from this book (falling at the same time as my first MSW classes, perfectly timed!) is that if we are willing, our actions and explanation can be used for social change. (And need to be, because so often the very oppressive political/religious sides are much more vocal!). I talk about our choice to become engaged as a mutual decision. I talk about how we divide chores. I encourage communication. I discuss how we came to the decision of marriage, how that plays into feminism and same-sex marriage. I discuss what our plans are for child-bearing. I share how we work out finances and other things we tried. I volunteer to watch children for my friends/acquaintances/sometimes strangers, or help out in other ways. I’m not just being nice, I want to actively develop a community and environment where things are discussed healthily, where there are resources, and where women don’t have to carry burdens alone. Not only do I help work out childcare/house cleaning/firewood gathering/food in my life, I work and politicize and vote for these same issues. It’s a macro issue and a micro one, and I am working really hard to let my life and my work speak about these things. Men shouldn’t be marginalized, women shouldn’t be overworked, all couples should be allowed to marry.
    This book has encouraged me to be a lot more intentional, open and questioning/non-judgmental, and political.

    • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

      I think the historical section that showed how marriage has changed really motivated me to help it continue to change in positive ways. Knowing that marriage is not stagnant, but actively evolving reminded me that I should help play a part in its evolution through speaking up and making deliberate choices.

  • http://amusinglist.wordpress.com Christina

    How has/have your own parents’ marriage(s) influenced your view of marriage?

    I suppose I learned more about divorce than I did marriage.

    My mother is twice divorced and three times married. My father is three times divorced and almost on his fourth marriage. All divorces were because of infidelity. They made a life of mud-slinging and anger because of it.

    I used to think cheating and divorce were bad things. Then I decided to get married and it all turned around. I know I’m going to be in the minority here, but I think monogamy is incredibly unnatural for a lot of humans, and it’s not worth ripping families apart for. Monogamy was unnatural for my parents, and had they admitted it to each other they could have kept their marriage in tact with an open marriage. It seems extreme but it doesn’t have to be. Anyway – divorce and cheating isn’t (necessarily) what’s bad for families. It’s anger. The negativity is what hurts people. My husband and I both know this personally and don’t view divorce or cheating as a losing point. If we desperately need to have relations with another person down the line, we’ll talk to each other about it. If divorce is what’s necessary at any point, we won’t make a life of hating each other over it.

    For anyone curious about non-monagamy and our human prehistory I suggest reading Sex At Dawn, Christopher Ryan. Incredibly interesting book.

    • Rachel

      Oh man – can we please have a post/discussion about open marriage? I feel like I’m in such a minority being ok with the concept (well I mean, I am…) but I think it is a topic that forces us to confront a lot of feelings and confidences and insecurities, etc. Also, I will definitely look into that book…

      Thank you!

      • http://amusinglist.wordpress.com Christina

        totally. I’ve tried writing a reclaiming wife post about it but… writing is not my strong suit. I feel like i have a lot to say though!

      • JEM

        whoooo dang, that’d be a big one. No experience here but it would definitely make me think.

    • Carla

      I keep meaning to read Sex at Dawn since hearing about it on the Savage LoveCast.

  • Joanna

    - How has/have your own parents’ marriage(s) influenced your view of marriage? Have you learned anything surprising about their marriage as an adult?

    My parents immigrated to Canada from communist Poland in 1982. They were poor, and basically had to do share all responsibilities as best they could in order to make it work, for the sake of my three siblings and myself. I grew up with my dad working laborious jobs around the clock, and my mom worked at home, raising us, cooking, cleaning, and running the household. She even tried to make extra money however she could, by taking in other kids to babysit, and other shortlived jobs that were just too much (on top of everything she was already doing). Growing up this way, I hardly saw much of my dad, and it felt weird to refer to my mother as a ‘homemaker’.

    Strange sidenote: Whenever a friend’s parent found out my mom is a ‘stay-at-home mom’, their reaction was always, ‘how nice for you, your family must be comfortable.’ Seriously. All other parents had mothers and fathers working outside the home, and we a minority.

    So my basic answer is this… I’ve reconciled my views on how they split up their duties as parents. Yes, my dad worked way too much overtime and wasn’t home often, and my mom was exhausted raising four kids and trying to make it all work on her own. BUT: They decided this, together. After 30 years of marriage, there is still no trace of spite. My dad wants to be the breadwinner to support the family, and my mom enjoys running the household. Nobody feels like they’ve been cheated. They are a team. They decided these roles together, because it worked best for them, and it was the best way they knew how to provide for their children.

    My SO and I function completely as a team, like two arms on a body (not the best analogy, but you get it). We do what we can, as much as we can. He’s literally working at school from morning till late night, and I work a full-time job and do my best to cook and clean. (And since he’s hardly ever home, I’m mostly cleaning after myself anyway). It won’t be like this forever, so when our situations change, so will our duties. But as always, we’ll deal with them as a team. Two arms on one body :)

  • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

    How has/have your own parents’ marriage(s) influenced your view of marriage? Have you learned anything surprising about their marriage as an adult?

    My parents have been married for 42 years, as of this June. They are practical, enduring, solid, kind, hardworking, and absolutely in love. They are not super affectionate, they’re incompatible, they’re stubborn, they’re passive aggressive.

    I love their story: they met in November, they were engaged in December, they moved in together in April, and were married in June. Less than nine months (and no, it wasn’t a shotgun; they didn’t have kids until 12 years later). My Dad was hitting on my mom’s roommate in a parking lot (YES), and after she turned him down, my mom said yes. She liked him because (and I quote) “he had a car, an apartment, and a solid job.” (She’d been dating musicians before him). They kept talking about “ifs” and “whens” and finally she asked when he was going to propose. It was a practical, real marriage. My mother wears the pants in the relationship, hands down. They aren’t super affectionate, but they’ve always shown they love one another in little ways. They have a working relationship.

    I’ve learned a lot from my parents about marriage and relationships, and let’s just say it’s not always from their good examples. But their hard work, love, honesty, and MORE hard work have kept them together for over four decades. In each part of their life (pre-babies, with a family, empty nesters) they have adapted their relationship to be the strongest they can be, and it’s really remarkable to watch. I have had the privilege to watch as they adapt to life without children, and though it hasn’t been easy, they’ve worked to re-build their relationship as two adults (not just Mom and Dad), and they are closer than ever. I haven’t asked them about their marriage, but I think I will this Christmas. We are a product of our families, but what we learn from them and the choices we make ourselves is what shapes us.

    • http://linseykitchens.wordpress.com Linsey

      Sarah, I love the story of your parents, and how you’re able to acknowledge just how great it is, despite the fact that it might not look like yours.

      My parents’ relationship has always surprised me; still does. Their go-to line was, “Well, we’d get a divorce, but then we’d just have different problems with different people.” When I was younger, this statement pissed me off to no end. Now I get it: history, commitment, stick-to-it-tiv-ness. Make this g-damn thing work! Things will not be easier, more romantic, more ________ fill in the blank with another person. Just different. Just as difficult.

      Last night my mother said about my upcoming marriage: “It’s really just about you and N getting married in front of the people you love.” Amen, Mom. Amen. And to think, somehow in her way of being, she taught me that is true. But to hear her confirm what I know to be true–outloud–to know my mother and I are on the same page about what a marriage is and isn’t, it feels good. She’s been married to my father for 36 years now, and they are the happiest they’ve ever been. Something to be said for riding out the waves.

      • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

        EXACTLY. In hindsight, my parents have had their fair share of arguments, they’ve had their “let’s-just-get-this-done” times… But they’ve come through so much stronger and so much sweeter in the end. When they were newlyweds, my father would stop by a flower cart in Cambridge and pull the loose change he had out of his pocket, and would bring my mother whatever flower(s) he could afford. Now he goes into the local flower shop in my hometown and tries to find the most interesting, the most exotic, the most unusual single flowers to bring home to my mother. He’s a regular, and the shop owner even tries to find unique flowers for him. My parents may fight from time to time, or have struggles, but he’s still buying her flowers. And that’s amazing.

        • N

          that is absolutely precious.

        • JEM


          • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

            Awww! Thanks! My mom is out there somewhere reading these and blushing. And I’m just so proud of them. I feel like a parent myself. “Look at them! They’ve worked so hard!” ….But they have. And I’m so, so happy for them. :)

    • Mallory

      I’m going to make an effort to talk to my parents too, well prolly just my mom. I think my dad might pass out if I asked him a question about his personal life. My parents have always had a confusing relationship to me. They bicker quite a bit but my mom will still refer to my dad as her soul mate. I should really delve into that.

    • http://www.mysanfranciscobudgetwedding.wordpress.com Sarah

      My parents’ marriage made a huge impact on my own relationships. When I was young, I believed that their respectful and loving relationship was perfection defined. They weren’t particularly romantic, but they always seemed to be polite and kind. When their marriage ended on the (actual) eve of their 35th wedding anniversary, I re-examined my own marriage. I have watched with interest during my adulthood as their relationship has evolved and morphed into something strange and wonderful and yet not a marriage. And yet, somehow, they are still at the head of a large extended family that gets together every single week and really is a village raising all of our children together.

      The thing that I always go back to, when I think about who they are together and apart, is that at the core, there is a high, familial love. It may not be romantic love, but there remains a great sense of mutual respect and responsibility and affection.

      • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

        That familial love and responsibility is a rare thing, in so many ways. One of the things I noticed about Gilbert’s explorations through older marriage structures and marriage in other cultures is that the Western definition of family has grown increasingly insular and separated. Our “family” has become this tiny family unit: parents and children. It’s a dangerous and lonely path to trip down, and I think it’s something that our culture is losing out on. What you describe is a healthy, big, family– which is why their marriage doesn’t need to be defined as a failure. They are bolstered by this big family that supports and loves them, even as they change the definition of their own relationship.

        • http://www.emilinda.blogspot.com Emily

          I am nodding my head like crazy about this. Yes!

    • http://twentyfivetowife.blogspot.com Amanda

      Sometimes I long for such a thing–a marriage that’s more about getting shit done together than it is about being each other’s everything. I love my fiance, but because I care so much about him, romantically especially, I find myself really vulnerable to his opinions and actions. It feels like, if I were more pragmatic about the whole thing, I could let our differences roll off my back better. And then I think a lot of the things he says come from his own insecurities and his need for me to be so much for him.

      I guess it comes down to that whole increasing insularity of our lives (as Sarah K. was saying elsewhere in this comment thread)–when we turn in toward our tiny families (particularly tiny before there are any children), we depend more and more on just each other to be that much more for us. This is particularly true for my fiance and I right now because we recently moved and just don’t yet have the same support network in SF that we did in NYC. And that network is so, so important. We–we all–need that perspective that we get from our girlfriends, our mothers and aunts, our siblings and cousins. And in this brave new world where we have the freedom to bounce from city to city and country to country as we please, we’ve lost that social fabric that used to protect us from this need for our relationships to be the one thing that fulfills us.

      That was completely rambling and ended in a totally different place from where it started. Hope you could follow it :)

      • Emily Elizabeth

        Yes, I know exactly what you mean. We went through being engaged for 5 months, and now married for 3, in a new city, in a new country. It can be hard to do anything outside the home at times, and reach out to new people in the area, especially since my husband works at home.
        I’ve been trying to broaden my circle of friends here, and he has too. This has even resulted in our almost becoming fake aunts and uncles to friends’ children that we go babysit and visit with when we can. We don’t have any family nearby, and neither do they, and it’s nice to build a friend-family as a support group here. We also always try to call/skype our friends and family who are spread out throughout the states too, to remind ourselves that we’ve got that support just a phone call away.

  • http://sochicsocheap.blogspot.com liz

    “Gilbert talks about how pragmatic marriages caused alliances and saved kingdoms and ran farms. Now marriage is mostly touted as a very individual, or as ‘for the kids.’ Do you think there is something that marriages, generally or individually, can offer to the larger community? Economically? Socially? Emotionally? For our neighborhood, our nation, our friend group, our families, or another group? Discuss.”

    i find that i’m more wholly able to help people with josh by my side. socially, within our circles of friends and families, etc i can do more because i have him. i’ve always been one to try to help people as an individual, but now that josh is here, “our powers combine” or something haha. he has a friend who needs a place to stay- i can cook for them. i have a friend who needs helping moving- he can lift heavy boxes. that’s kind of small scale, but i think that because of our combined, differing abilities we can have much more of a social impact.

    • http://www.mysanfranciscobudgetwedding.wordpress.com Sarah

      I totally agree with this. We are able to better serve others’ needs because we have become extensions of the other. It also makes me a better parent and employee to have someone who makes it possible for me to be all things — parent, employee, wife — without having the combination tear away at my soul.

      Division of labor is a huge part of this, but also just knowing that there is someone who will be there when I need a helping hand, or when someone I love or know needs a helping hand (and vice versa).

    • http://madeline.eisenhart@gmail.com Maddie

      a). <3 for "our powers combined"
      b). I think that in addition to having a greater social impact as a couple, in return also strengthens your relationship. It's such a cyclical process. When people start looking to us as a team, it reminds us that we're better together. I think we do a greater service to our communities and to ourselves when our relationship is about more than just "us".

    • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

      “movement by myself but a force when we’re together.”

      This exactly. And I feel safer helping, physically, financially, emotionally.

      • meg

        God, this was the toast for the wedding graduate with cancer, and it makes me cry every time:

        I’m a movement by myself.
        But I’m a force when we’re together.
        I’m good all by myself.
        But baby you, you make me better.

        • http://lilapuppy.blogspot.com Meghan

          I need to write this down because I have come back to read those words several times today.

          What can I say, I am in a weepy, love my husband mood.

        • http://lilapuppy.blogspot.com Meghan

          Ok. Just googled those words and turns out it is from a Fabolous song…

          The next stanza is not as moving:

          You plus me it equals better math
          Your boy a good look but she my better half
          I’m already bossing already flossing
          But why have the cake if it ain’t got the sweet frosting?
          (Yep, yep, yep, yep) Keeping me on my A game
          (Wit, wit, wit, wit) Without having a say names
          (They, they, they, they, they) They may flame
          (But, but, but, but) But shorty we burn it up
          The sag in my swag, pimp in my step
          Daddy do the Gucci, mami in Giuseppes
          Yes, it’s a G thang, Whenever we swing
          I’ma need Coretta Scott if I’m gonna be king


          • http://happysighs.blogspot.com Liz


          • http://webecomeus.wordpress.com Caitlin

            HA- i did the same thing. new motivational morning song? probably. especially with that cake line in there.

          • http://lilapuppy.blogspot.com Meghan

            Damn Google ruins everything.

    • http://bride-sans-tulle.blogspot.com Sharon

      I love the way you put this, Liz, and that’s been the truth of my marriage as well. One of the reasons I knew I wanted to marry Jason fairly early on in our dating relationship was when people started commenting that we made each other more effective at the ways we take care of our communities, and I thought, “Yes, that’s the kind of marriage I want to have, where we are better together than we are apart.”

      There’s a bit from the Book of Common Prayer’s marriage service that I love, that goes: “Give them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others.” That’s sort of become the mission statement of our marriage.

  • Jessica

    I really want to hear someone’s thoughts on the last talking point:

    “How did Gilbert’s list of demographics’ effect on marriage make you feel about the prospects of your own marriage?”

    I want to know what its like to know the odds are against you and still feel optimistic.

    • http://linseykitchens.wordpress.com Linsey

      Jessica, I just had this conversation with my fiance the other night. He comes from a divorced family; I do not. He kept saying, “We’re going to make it to the end.” The first two times he said it, I was like, yeah, we are. The third time I was like…wait! How do you KNOW we’re going to make it to the end? Cause doesn’t everyone start out thinking that? Meg said (me paraphrasing) that we just act like we are going to make it.

      Right. We do. But why don’t we talk about why we’re going to make it? Or how we’re going to? Or what do we plan to do when the going gets rough?

      It’s one of those unspoken topics, I think, for most of us. But when I asked my honey, he gave the most thoughtful and honest answer–and then he asked me why I thought we would make it–against all odds. It is the best conversation we’ve had since being engaged.

    • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

      I actually really liked that list. I think that being aware of factors helps you prepare for those eventualities. Just like knowing that most couples fight about money has helped us set ground rules to prepare for that. Looking at these demographics caused us to think about why those might impact, and how that applies to us, what we can do to guard against, etc.

      • meg


        Though we are, actually, in the golden demographics. And while that’s not right for everyone, we waited for a long time to get married, and it made me realize that our reasons were very very good ones. We got together at 23 and 24, but didn’t get married till almost 30. I needed that time to get to know myself better and get steadier in myself. But the most important thing for me is that I needed to be financially independent and stable. I was by the time we got married, and I think that has made all the difference.

        • http://jolynn.wordpress.com jolynn

          I had read about most of those demographics at a very young age, and made a lot of my relationship decisions around them. As I grew up with ZERO positive relationships around me, I think that list kept me safe/helped me build positive practices. I didn’t use it as an absolute, but it was a really great place to help me start questioning decisions from.

    • Mallory

      A lot of the demographics she listed were in my favor except one big one, age. At just barely 23 I am below that magic “25 year old” line where the divorce rates drop drastically. When I started reading that I got really self conscious and wanted to slow down our relationship process so that we didn’t fall into any of those risky demographics, which is silly. When I step back, we’ve already beat the odds in our relationship by surviving the first 3 years of our relationship across the country from each other and only spending a few weeks together each year. We were told by countless people that long distance relationships never work. But you know what, we made it and are stronger for it. You have to just focus on the fact that you know your relationship better than any statistician and trust in your judgment that despite any demographics if you wake up every day choosing to be present in your marriage and work through differences that you have just as good a chance as anyone.

      • http://webecomeus.wordpress.com Caitlin

        Oh heck yes long-distance relationships can work! :)

    • M

      I was kinda depressed after reading the statistics… some things, like education, are in our favor. The big ones like divorced parents (mine), age, and being religious are not.

      I put the book down and thought about it for a while and what I took away from it positively is… his parents aren’t divorced, so at least one of us doesn’t have a giant cloud over our marriage prospects. We aren’t religious, but we both believe and want our marriage to be for our whole lives unless their is abuse/cheating, which I think is a main strength of the religious component. And although I will be just 24 when we get married and the statistics make me nervous, in our relationship we are both open to growing and changing with each other, so I feel like the younger age gives us more time to build our lives together.

    • Marchelle

      We come out pretty badly on 3 of the 8 she discusses, and only OK on one other. So I guess I should be depressed? Or at least concerned? I’m not. They’re statistics. They accurately describe the general, but cannot begin to predict the individual. So I’ll hold on to my optimism. :)

    • http://eclpse.livejournal.com Kimberly

      I dunno, I didn’t really think much of the statistics, other than a passing “Hmm, that’s interesting.” I remember her saying, well, we’ve got this going for us and that’s in our favor, but this is against us, and so is that . . . and I feel the same way. In the end, it’s just a whole lot of . . . information. It doesn’t make me feel doomed, or optimistic, or anything, really. Statistics are helpful in that it’s a way to organize and view information on a large scale, but on a smaller scale — on an individual scale, it doesn’t actually mean anything to me. Maybe I’m in the minority, though.

      • Morgan

        You’re not the only one, whether or not we’re a minority…

    • http://sochicsocheap.blogspot.com liz

      i think josh and i were split down the middle- with good and bad weighing in equal measure.

      i found it encouraging. because my analytical self could weigh each one and understand why it would be a factor in marital “bliss.” for example, age. i got married frickin YOUNG. and i know it. and i’ve heard a lot of flack for it.

      i would imagine that marrying young increases your chances of divorce because, say, a lot of 21 year olds just don’t know their own minds or desires or needs just yet. that young people are more inclined to be less informed about the realities or marriage, and more inclined to expect too much of a spouse.

      so although it was “strike one” against us for age, i could whittle away at the reasoning and figure out that we didn’t HAVE to be the typical “young ones” or the typical “parents” etc. which made me hopeful.

    • http://twentyfivetowife.blogspot.com Amanda

      I come down on the right side of nearly all of those stats–and I’m still terrified. As I was reading it, for a minute I thought “ok, everything will be fine!” and soon was right back to worried that everything will go wrong and we’ll end up with some terrible divorce. So, there’s the other end.

      But really, the best way to think about such things is the same way as one does with health statistics. If breast cancer runs in your family, that doesn’t mean you should live in fear of it–it means you do self-exams religiously and get mammograms earlier. Similarly, if, say, your parents are divorced, you try to learn from their experience so as to not repeat it. Instead of just thinking “oh man those fights they used to have were something fearsome” you ask them about their own experiences of it, and you find examples of success, and you read books about making marriage work.

      What it comes down to, almost all of the time, is a choice. Marriage is a choice. Love is a choice. You choose to make this person your partner, through thick and thin, and you choose to stick with it later on, and to work through the hard times–and there will be some of those, I guarantee you–instead of running away. And you catch problems while they’re small instead of letting them get to the point of irreconcilable differences.

      So there’s your hope. And for the record, I’m still terrified, but I’m working on it. And I’m almost 30 and both my fiance and I have still-married parents.

      • K

        “Marriage is a choice. Love is a choice.”

  • http://lilapuppy.blogspot.com Meghan

    I think of marriage that way too. In the “wonder twin powers activate” sort of way. I also sometimes think of it like when we were in grade school and needed a “buddy” for swimming. So that in case one was drowning the other could help with the rescue.

    • http://lilapuppy.blogspot.com Meghan

      oops that was to be in reply to Liz.

    • http://linseykitchens.wordpress.com Linsey

      Ha! That’s a great analogy, Meghan. I feel like I’m drowning now, without my man, as we are in different parts of the country during our engagement. Boo! When you’re used to having a swim buddy, you’re a little more risky, a bit more daring. You’ll dive deep. And when they’re suddenly gone? Blergh! Still have those tendencies to dive deep, but now without the strong arms to hold you when you arrive at the surface, coughing and belching up chlorinated water. Come back, swim buddy! Come back!

    • http://linseykitchens.wordpress.com Linsey

      In fact, Meghan, it reminds me of why girls (ladies) head off to the bathroom in pairs. We’re not afraid of toilet monsters, and it’s not that we can’t go alone. But we like the company, we like to giggle, to sequester ourselves away from everyone and talk scandal. Life partners are the opposite sexed (in some cases! ;) bathroom buddy!

  • http://notsolittlethings.blogspot.com Stephanie

    As other folks have mentioned I found the historical overview of marriage really interesting. Particularly the relationship between celibacy and early Christianity and how it relates (or is in direct opposition to) the current “family values” argument against marriage equality. As someone who got a degree in Gender studies from a Catholic college I’m shocked I didn’t already have this argument in my arsenal.

    However, I think the book suffered from Gilbert’s attempts to make the book two things: memoir and sociological overview. Obviously, Gilbert’s strength is in memoir, and while I didn’t relate with her own thoughts on marriage, her family history of marriage was fascinating – the red coat!

    While you can tell she put a lot of effort into researching the historical pieces, I don’t think she succeeded and in once case I think she was flat out wrong. Gilbert argued that divorce has risen as we have moved away from thinking about marriage as a necessary social and economic contract to a love-laded romantic ideal, but this is simply not true. Divorce rates, in both the US and abroad (there are rising divorce rates right now in Iran), have risen in direct correlation to women’s economic independence and the lessening of divorce laws.

    In the United States women did not have the ability to hold their own credit card, free of their husband or father’s name, until 1974…1974! If you take a look at divorce rates in the US (bottom graphic at the link) there is a pretty direct correlary between women’s economic and social equality and the increased divorce rate.

    • http://bondingcarbonunits.wordpress.com/ the Sarah formerly known as Sarah K.

      I don’t think that there’s any one thing we can point at and say “THERE. That’s the reason for rising divorce rates.” I think she’s still right that divorce rates rise as people see the need for their marriage to be based around love and romance. It’s a combination of all of the above. If people don’t NEED to be married for social (eg: shunned upon divorce) or economic (eg: woman can’t get a credit card without her husband), then divorce rates are more centered around other, more emotional reasons. It’s not one or the other; it’s all of the above.

      Personally, I liked how Gilbert mashed it all together. She said, very early on, that she was not, in any way, whatsoever, a specialist. She denied any and all claims to being an anthropologist, and instead just explored. I loved that. It felt like what I would do, if I were in her position. Imagine: a woman, a writer, who hates marriage, being forced to get married, with six months of time on her hands, in faraway places with libraries at her disposal. Her research is from the heart, as is her writing. Her acknowledgments is full of people to read who were legitimate researchers, if the reader were so inclined. I wouldn’t ever describe “Committed” as an anthropological analysis of marriage; it’s just a memoir about a woman’s search for truth and reason in the messy world of love and marriage.

    • Katelyn

      Which is why I think it’s funny that something that directly stems from events that most people (I certainly hope) see as extremely good can be seen as so totally bad.

      When all you have left to hold a marriage together is love and trust, and not economic dependence or protection, it’s a tenuous hold indeed. And that’s not such a terrible thing! It makes the time together all the more improbable, all the more awesome. Even if that time together isn’t forever.

    • http://sochicsocheap.blogspot.com liz

      i think you’re right on about the divorce rates, though i slightly agreed with gilbert’s point also. (i think there are certainly a lot of misguided people who expect marriage to be the end-all-be-all of happiness, and become disenchanted)

      but when i read that part, i thought about how recently (i think it’s about 1985!) that spousal rape became a crime. those kinds of movements forward- both in women’s rights and in understanding that marriage is not just some mystical, secluded state of perfection make divorce more accessible.

    • Class of 1980

      Stephanie wrote:

      “Gilbert argued that divorce has risen as we have moved away from thinking about marriage as a necessary social and economic contract to a love-laded romantic ideal, but this is simply not true. Divorce rates, in both the US and abroad (there are rising divorce rates right now in Iran), have risen in direct correlation to women’s economic independence and the lessening of divorce laws.

      In the United States women did not have the ability to hold their own credit card, free of their husband or father’s name, until 1974…1974! If you take a look at divorce rates in the US (bottom graphic at the link) there is a pretty direct correlary between women’s economic and social equality and the increased divorce rate.”


      I do think you are right on.

      I’m 52 and my mother is 74. When I look back at the marriages of my parents generation, money was the one thing that held MANY women in bad marriages.

      There were about the same amount of happy and unhappy marriages back then. But in the unhappy ones, the women didn’t feel they could support themselves and/or their dependent children. They stayed.

      I remember several of my mother’s friends who were in unhappy marriages saying this. It was so common to hear that so-and-so was scared to leave. My own mother didn’t divorce until her early forties when we were grown and she had started on a real career.

      As a matter of fact, in the sixties, there were only two households in my huge neighborhood where a divorced mother with children lived. And guess what? They were the only working mothers in the whole neighborhood and they were the only ones with serious money struggles. They both got the house and alimony in the divorce, but their financial situation was hard. They both had very spartan looking interiors in their homes compared with the intact families all around.

  • Marchelle

    ■Gilbert talks about how pragmatic marriages caused alliances and saved kingdoms and ran farms. Now marriage is mostly touted as a very individual, or as ‘for the kids.’ Do you think there is something that marriages, generally or individually, can offer to the larger community? Economically? Socially? Emotionally? For our neighborhood, our nation, our friend group, our families, or another group? Discuss.

    I think that humans are social animals, and we become our most complete selves through interacting with others. Marriage is the current societal means of formalising the smallest, base unit, of these groups of people, defining the core of each family, larger multiples of which make up communities, and then society as a whole. So, in essence, I suppose I could say that marriage offers society as a whole absolutely everything, because without these core, stable units of people, who are thereby best supported to function in every sense, society itself couldn’t exist. It’s just a thought.

    ■Gilbert asks on page 185 “how might we work together as a society to construct a world where healthy children can be raised with out women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it?” Discuss.

    To be entirely honest, I feel as though I need to have a direct experience of motherhood before I can really give an answer to this question. I truly think that motherhood will change my point of view on some things, from the most basic biological level even (you know, all those actual brain changes that pregnancy brings about), so I don’t know whether what looks like the scraping bare of my soul to me from here, will seem perfectly reasonable sacrifice when/if I become a mother.

    That said, I think she answered the question in posing it. We need to work *together* as a society – a return to a more communal way of life would help. I think modern Western life is too individualised, and fragmented, and people are too cut off from a robust enough support network. Parenting is bloody hard work, and you need a whole bunch of reserves in the sidelines to assist from time to time, practically, emotionally, financially, the works. That village I’m always obsessing about, in other words.

    ■Early in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert says that “every intimacy carries the ever-coiled makings of complete catastrophe.” Do you think that’s true of your relationship? Does it make you feel doomed, or hopeful?

    I think Liz Gilbert is quite neurotic and rather melodramatic at times. :) Both endearing qualities which I totally recognise in myself (and why I think I enjoy her writing so much). But, no. I don’t hold any such catastrophic beliefs about my relationships.

    ■On page 35 Liz states “… the person whom you choose to marry is perhaps the single most vivid representation of your own personality. Your spouse becomes the most gleaming possible mirror through which your emotional individualism is reflected back to the world.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

    Oh dear lord. I think this is very true for many, many women nowadays. I also think it’s, um, a slightly unhelpful way to view your spouse. They are a person in their own right, not a mirror of your self. I think marriages probably work a lot better when people can manage to peer through that initial gleam that they project unto their spouse and keep hold of a fairly clear view of what the actual person underneath is like. Massively tarnished spots and all.

    ■How has/have your own parents’ marriage(s) influenced your view of marriage? Have you learned anything surprising about their marriage as an adult?

    I think the optimism in our marriage, despite some of the odds being stacked against us that I mentioned in response to another comment earlier, originates from seeing my parents’ marriage. I guess I just expect a marriage to work, because it’s what I’ve always seen. And I seem to have chosen to marry a man with whom I relate in a way not dissimilar to how I see my parents (and his) relate. I expect to be treated as an equal, to be valued as a person and not just for my role as wife/mother/whatever, to be loved, to be respected, and, well, to have a laugh. It may a naively rosy worldview, but he holds it too, so it works for us.

    My parents were so young when they had me that we grew up together, so I feel I’ve seen their marriage evolve, which has been very helpful for thinking about my own over time. One thing that I’ve learnt I suppose is about what I took to be my mother’s dependency on my father. I went through a stroppy phase in my teenage years where I thought that she wasn’t being a strong enough feminist woman, and wasn’t showing me the ‘right’ example. Now I realise that it’s just really important to my father that he be allowed to take care of my mother in certain ways, so she lets him. She’s actually perfectly capable of being an independent woman in her own right. She just choses not to in certain ways, and that’s part of the dynamic of their relationship. It’s been helpful to think about when I’ve struggled to let my husband take care of me in certain ways. :)

    And that’s my ha’penny worth.

  • http://www.silvercharmevents.com Liz Coopersmith

    Do you think there is something that marriages, generally or individually, can offer to the larger community? Economically? Socially? Emotionally? For our neighborhood, our nation, our friend group, our families, or another group?
    - I think it’s the same thing that any unit – family, team, community, offers to the outside world and to each other. The world works better in cooperation. And we all choose our teams.
    Has the evolution of men’s and women’s roles in our social network negatively or positively affected our marriages in the Western world?
    - I think the best answer to that is “yes”. I’m only going to speak for women I know in my generation – we were raised to believe that we can do anything, get an education, get married, have kids, raise them, but we weren’t really aware of the consequences/compromises involved, probably because the people who were telling us this didn’t realize it themselves. The men, I think – THINK – weren’t raised with the same urgency or pressure to have it all. Their pressure is still different, that drive to be a financial success, and there’s an expectation that everything else will work itself out. And just from my observation, women kind of buy into that, as well – “he’s not/can’t take care of it, so I have to.” They’re the ones working it out. That being said, more women are saying, yeah, I need your help, and more men are saying okay, what do you need, and giving it to them.

    Early in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert says that “every intimacy carries the ever-coiled makings of complete catastrophe.” Do you think that’s true of your relationship? Does it make you feel doomed, or hopeful?
    - Well, yeah, and it’s not just a couple relationship. It’s how no one can make you feel bad like your parents,with like, one word! When you love someone, you care what they think, a lot, you want them to think well of you, you want them to understand you, and that’s not easy or even possible in some cases. It doesn’t make me feel doomed or hopeful, it’s just life and living. But it’s also a matter of perspective, like, “I don’t like your pasta dish” is not the equivalent of “you’re a horrible person and I want you to die.”

    how might we work together as a society to construct a world where healthy children can be raised with out women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it?
    - Well, for one thing, women need to stop accepting that they’re the ones who have to make all the sacrifices. It’s a choice. And for another, both men and women need to be aware that there are sacrifices that have to be made. I mean, he might not get it, either, and if you’re just moseying along all scraped and not saying anything, then..? You’d be surprised what happens after you raise your hand and say, “This sucks.”
    How has/have your own parents’ marriage(s) influenced your view of marriage?
    - I was raised by a single mom sans Dad, and it could get pretty chaotic. For a while there, I thought, okay, if there was a GUY, then he could take control of this stuff and everything might calm down. And, uhh, a couple of relationships in my 20s cured me of that idea! He doesn’t know anything more than you do,and expecting that he will will leave you severely disappointed. Relationships need to be a partnership, or someone is definitely going to be soul-scraped.

    How did Gilbert’s list of demographics’ effect on marriage make you feel about the prospects of your own marriage?
    I already knew most of it, but I did love the history part. I think what stood out for me, as others have said, is that marriage wasn’t always any one thing, and for most of history, it wasn’t about love – we didn’t get to decide who we were going to spend the rest of our lives with. Now, we can choose who we marry, and why. What most people need to realize is that we can also choose what our marriages look like.

    That being said, I absolutely loved this book. I’ve often contemplated buying it for every couple I work with, but I’m never sure how that would be taken!

    • http://www.silvercharmevents.com Liz Coopersmith

      Sorry, in the above comment, when I said that we were raised to believe we can do anything, I forgot to add, “have a career” which is very important part of “having it all!”

  • http://www.silvercharmevents.com Liz Coopersmith

    Forgot this one:
    On page 35 Liz states “… the person whom you choose to marry is perhaps the single most vivid representation of your own personality. Your spouse becomes the most gleaming possible mirror through which your emotional individualism is reflected back to the world.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
    - As in, “You’re the kind of woman who would choose to marry that guy,” “kind of woman” and “that guy” = different things to different people. Context is important. Whether or not you care what other people think is important, too. I mean the response to this statement could be, “yeah, so?”